Fast Facts: Humans and Animals


Featured Image: A puppy is embraced at a college de-stressing event. Credit: Tulane Public Relations.

Faun was called Pan in Greek mythology.

Faun is called Pan in Greek mythology.

  • Animals play major roles in the stories of human cultures. The serpent of Eden, the wolf-raised founders of Rome, and the Ojibwe totemic spirits are some examples. Many religions feature spiritual beings who are a mixture of humans, animals and nature. Faun is the Roman god of the forest.
  • War dogs, war horses and war elephants are featured prominently throughout history, horses as cavalry and transport, dogs as trackers, guardians and attackers. American and Soviet militaries trained dolphins as well.
  • There’s a field that exclusively covers the human-animal relationship. It’s called anthrozoology.

Image: Pixor.

  • Many studies have shown physical and mental health benefits from the presence of animals, such as lower blood pressure, stress and anxiety. Simply watching fish swim decreases stress.
Image: Stepjuli.

Image: Stepjuli.

  • Sacred cows are allowed to roam free in many Indian cities. Nearly 40,000 share the streets in Delhi. Homeless cows are taken care of by temples in some areas. It’s possible cattle first became sacred because of their functional role. Their importance in providing dairy, fertilizer and labor was foundational for families in India for hundreds of years. Sacred cattle also appear in ancient Rome, Egypt, Israel, Mesopotamia and in the Celtic religion.
  • In one study, people were found to have at least as much empathy for animals in need as humans. “We suggest that an animal target elicits a great deal of empathy partly because it is perceived as not being responsible for having caused the need situation,” the study said.

Lammergeier with a boy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Image: John Hill.

  • There are over 200 zoos in the United States significantly impacting local economies. Their 134 million annual visitors are more than the NFL, NHL and MLB combined. Before modern zoological parks there were “royal menageries,” collections of exotic animals by royalty. Kings Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia, Solomon of Israel and Ashurbanipal of Assyria had famous menageries featuring everything from hippos to baboons. These animals were also given as royal gifts between nations.
  • The U.S. has the highest ratio of pets to people in the world, with 83 million dogs and 96 million cats as of 2012, according to the Humane Society. Brazil has the highest ratio of small dogs.
  • It’s common for people to ascribe personalities to animals, especially dogs, cats and horses, but also small animals like rabbits. Researchers have come up with a questionnaire for dog personalities, called C-BARQ, (Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire, of course). Aggressiveness, sociability, activity and attachment are major traits it measures.

A totem pole from From Saxman Totem Park in Ketchikan, Alaska. Image: Jerzy Strzelecki.

  • Dogs and cats were often buried with their owners in ancient times. Incan and Egyptian civilizations engaged in the practice, among others.
  • Roman emperors imported animals from faraway Africa and Asia to do battle in the Coliseum. Tigers, lions, bears, elephants, bulls and rhinos were barbarically pitted against each other by the likes of Nero and Trajan.
  • Of man-eating mammals, lions are among the most fatal, with about 100 fatalities a year. Five hundred people die from hippo attacks every year. Over a thousand die from crocodiles.
  • The expansion of human territory, particularly in India and China, is a major reason why humans and tigers come to fatal contact. Many Indians in tiger territory try to dissuade them by wearing masks on the back of their heads.

The Pharaoh Hound is the national animal of Malta. Image: kallerna.

  • Many nations, tribes and ethnic groups have symbolic animals representing them. The horse was special to Mongols, the shark to Hawaiians. The panda, jaguar and peregrine falcon are the national animals of China, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates, respectively.

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